Karen McDonald Honored for Excellence in Biochemical Engineering
Chemical Engineering Distinguished Professor Karen McDonald was honored for her outstanding contributions to the field of biochemical engineering with the 2022 Daniel I.C. Wang Award from the American Chemical Society’s Division of Biochemical Technology (ACS BIOT) and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Society of Biological Engineering (AIChE/SBE).
The award is named after Professor Daniel I.C. Wang, whose five-decade career has been pivotal in developing the biotechnology industry and shaping biochemical engineering education and training. Every year, it recognizes researchers for their contributions to the field and practice of biochemical engineering, as exemplified by Wang. McDonald received the award at the ACS National Meeting in San Diego on March 20, 2022.
“Receiving this award in honor of Danny Wang and his enormous contributions to biochemical engineering is the highlight of my career,” she said. “I’m very grateful to my current and former graduate and undergraduate students whose research contributed to this recognition, as well as many academic and industrial colleagues that I have had the pleasure to collaborate with over the years”
Since joining UC Davis in 1985, McDonald has been a leader on campus and in the field of biotechnology and she helped establish the ABET-accredited Biochemical Engineering major on campus in 1994. Her lab, co-directed with long-time collaborator and CHE adjunct professor Somen Nandi, combines techniques from chemical engineering, plant sciences and molecular biology to turn plants into bioreactors.
Plants often have the “hardware” to make products like biopharmaceuticals, but they lack the instructions for how to do so. Using genetic engineering, the lab gives plant cells these instructions to produce recombinant therapeutic proteins quickly for deep space missions, chemical/biological warfare recovery and response to infectious disease.
McDonald has also been a driving force behind diversity, equity and inclusion at UC Davis. Her first NSF grant established the Center for Women in Engineering in the college and she later served as associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering. Most notably, she was the faculty director of UC Davis ADVANCE from 2013 to 2018, a campus-wide program aimed at recruiting, supporting and retaining women faculty from underrepresented backgrounds.
She received her B.S. from Stanford University, her M.S. from UC Berkeley and her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland – College Park. She is an AIChE fellow and her research has been funded by NASA, the NSF, DTRA and DARPA.